Technology’s impact on waste

Bruce Parker

Over the past 10 years major scientific advances have been made to harvest alternative fuels.

To discuss how technological improvements are helping to reduce energy consumption, harvest alternative energy and improve the bottom line of waste management companies, American Recycler sat down with Bruce Parker, the president and chief executive officer of the National Solid Wastes Management Association.

With the costs of waste collection and processing increasing, how important is it for solid waste management companies to share technological developments to reduce operating costs?

Parker: To the best of my knowledge, companies in the solid waste industry do not directly “share” this type of competitive knowledge but, that said, technological development quickly becomes transparent throughout the industry for several reasons.

First, equipment manufacturers advertise breakthrough or modifications that save fuel, reduce emissions, increase payloads, reduce accidents and so on. The annual Waste Expo Exhibition and Conference showcases these types of changes. Secondly, innovation results from customer demand and need as in most industries. Third, publications such as American Recycler, write stories on significant technological changes in the industry.

To what extent are waste management companies and manufacturers of trucks and other vehicles and waste processing equipment – particularly equipment which reduces energy consumption – working together to develop pilot projects to test equipment?

Parker: The Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) is one of the largest funding sources for solid waste research in the United States. Some of EREF’s research areas of specialization are landfills, transport/collection, recycling and waste minimization, conversion technologies, life cycle analysis and combustion/waste-to-energy.

The Foundation also works closely with major universities, such as Michigan State, Florida State and North Carolina State University, on funded (grants) projects. In addition, NSWMA and EREF are responsible, in part, for assuring the success of the Global Waste Management Symposium, an every-other-year event that brings together solid waste academics, facility owners and operators, vendors, and others to present peer reviewed papers on new technologies, equipment and emerging trends.

In short, research and development is a very important part of the industry, especially at this time of global awareness and concern about greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and other major environmental issues.

Do the federal and state governments offer sufficient tax incentives and/or grants for waste management companies to upgrade their fleets and facilities to reduce energy consumption, improve environmental safeguards at facilities, and to help convert waste into alternative energy?

Parker: Yes, but there can always be more! There are many federal agencies that have programs in place to assist waste collection fleets and waste management facilities in reducing energy consumption and convert waste into alternate energy. For example, the Department of Energy (DOE) has provided Cummins Engines, Inc. with over $38 million in grant money to develop and demonstrate a highly efficient and clean diesel engine, among others things, and Navistar, Inc., has received over $37 million from DOE to develop and demonstrate technologies to improve combustion efficiency, idle reduction and waste heat recovery.

Waste companies, big and small, have benefited from both federal and state funding to convert their fleets from diesel fuel to compressed or liquefied natural gas, and the Section 45 production tax credit for energy produced from renewable fuels has been a major reason for almost 600 landfills extracting clean, renewable energy (landfill gas) from landfills. The states also have been giving grants to haulers to convert to natural gas vehicles. A northern California refuse company recently received over $400,000 from the Bay Area Quality Management District to buy about 23 CNG refuse trucks.

What are the most compelling advances in terms of equipment to derive alternative energy from landfills and at specially designed facilities for waste-to-energy conversion?

Parker: I believe the two most notable developments have been the continuing conversion from diesel fuel to natural gas to power refuse collection trucks, and engine manufacturers that are required to meet EPA’s 2010 emissions reduction mandate for nitrogen oxides. The requirement will also reduce particulate matter. The use of natural gas and other alternative fuels in large part is being driven by municipalities, such as San Francisco and New York City, as part of the request for proposal to manage the city’s waste needs. Body manufacturers also are using higher tensile steel to reduce truck weight.

Another important technology is a hybrid truck which uses a lithium ion battery or a hydraulic system to capture the braking energy. The greatest potential for fuel savings is in lots of “stop and go” driving typical of curbside trash collection. Volvo began developing a hybrid truck several years ago, but I believe there are none, or very few, of these trucks available now.

Is the public and the government aware of how important technological innovation is to the solid waste industry, and how new and improved equipment can reduce the environmental impact of waste in general, waste collection and waste processing?

Parker: I am sure the general public is unaware; reliable garbage collection is their major concern!

Without question local government is aware of how technological innovation can reduce emissions, increase operating and collection, processing, recycling and cost efficiencies. NSWMA has materials and organizes educational sessions on advances in technology at Waste Expo. The Solid Waste Association of North America, representing the public waste sector, does an excellent job of keeping its members up to speed.